Our expert looks through the field of handicapper who will bring the Festival to a close and picks out an interesting each-way contender who could build on the narrow loss he suffered at Cheltenham earlier in the season.
After four days of fantastic action and 27 races filled with excitement, intrigue and sporting drama, the Cheltenham Festival will be brought to a close by the Jonny Henderson Grand Annual Chase. This Grade 3 two mile handicap chase may be the final race at the Festival, but it’s also the oldest. Records state that the first running of this historic race was run way back in 1834, making it one of the first official National Hunt races ever to be staged.
(16/1 William Hill
) is the joint-favourite with most bookmakers to take the Grand Annual prize on Friday evening at the Festival. Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old has looked in great form so far this season, finishing inside the places on eight of his ten races this season. He’s managed two victories over recent months – winning a minor race at Wexford in October, before claiming victory in a very profitable handicap chase at Fairyhouse, beating a field of tough competitors by a comfortable distance.
) made a late mistake in that Fairyhouse contest when running well at the head of the field, but he stayed well to come home nine lengths behind Ball D’Arc in second. Barry Murphy’s eight-year-old is yet to win this season and has been running mainly over two-and-a-half miles, but his two best results, at Fairyhouse and here at Cheltenham, have come over shorter trips. He was narrowly beaten by surprise package, Un Beau Roman
) over course-and-distance here in November, but he ran well that day and will bring good memories of Prestbury Park with him to Cheltenham in March.
Recent Cheltenham victor, Eastlake
(25/1 William Hill
) was ninth in this contest last season and may return for another crack at the Grand Annual crown. After that disappointing performance here, the eleven-year-old went to post as a 22/1 shot to win the Topham at Aintree – but Jonjo O’Neill’s experienced handicapper put in a sparkling display to land a surprise Festival title. He won the Raymond Mould Handicap off a mark of 146, a rating which has risen to 154 after that surprise victory – so if he does return to the Grand Annual, he will have to carry a very heavy weight on his back.
David Pipe’s Starchitect
(16/1 William Hill
) ran well to finish fifth in the County Hurdle here last year and the six-year-old has won on the flat and in a class four novices’ chase since his last Festival venture. He’s been well fancied on two other occasions this season, but had to settle for third behind Baron Alco and A Hare Breath on separate occasions, but a comfortable victory at Ayr last time out will be a big boost to his confidence.
Since coming third on his jumping debut, Cloudy Dream
) is yet to finish outside the top two on any of his seven outings since. He fell to a surprise defeat in his last outing and finished a close second to Buveur D’Air in December, but Malcolm Jefferson’s charge convincingly won his first two chases and could be well fancied going into Cheltenham.
Barry Geraghty riding Eastlake to victory here in December.Great Field
(20/1 Paddy Power
) is an interesting entrant in the betting. Willie Mullins’ lightly-raced six-year-old joint-favourite for last year’s County Hurdle, despite only one seasonal run going into the Festival. He looked very green out in-front that day and fell back through the field before eventually being pulled up. The six-year-old beat Pertemps winner Mall Dini in his only appearance of this new season at the end of January and could be heavily-backed throughout Festival week once again.
) and Attribution
(25/1 Paddy Power
) battled it out for a novice chase title earlier in the season, with Ordinary World coming away from Fairyhouse with an impressive victory. Both have gone onto appear in high profile Graded novices’ chases since – Ordinary World came home second behind Identity Thief and Min on two separate occasions, with Attribution landing a Grade 3 title ahead of Briar Hill at Navan in December. Both are entered into the Arkle, but with both their current ratings sitting in the low 140s, the Grand Annual may be their best option.
) and Rock The World
(20/1 William Hill
) could return to this race, after being narrowly beaten by Solar Impulse to the 2016 title. Both sit prominently in the ante-post betting, but neither has shown any encouraging form so far during this campaign. The Game Changer
) is another possible entrant, but with a rating around the 150 mark, he will find himself at the top end of the handicapper scales.
(25/1 William Hill
) has twice been beaten by Altior in Graded novice chases this season, but he won two good quality contests earlier in the autumn, including a course-and-distance victory in a class two contest back in October. He was unusually temperamental on his last outing at Doncaster and he was eventually pulled up after breaking a blood vessel, so whether he could recover from that trauma in time for the Festival is difficult to say.
Paul Nicholls' charge would have been right near the top of the list of possible picks for this title, but following that injury, a question mark has been placed next to his name. Cloudy Dream looks like a classy chaser, but he too will be burdened with plenty of weight if he takes the Grand Annual route. Starchitect is a pacey youngster who could make a big impact and Attribution will bring Grade 3 winning form with him to Cheltenham, but PAIROFBROWNEYES looks like a great each-way prospect.
He was a 4/1 shot when Un Beau Roman pipped him to a course-and-distance win in the autumn, but his trainer will have been pleased with the way his charge acquitted himself on his first visit to Cheltenham. He won two decent handicap chases at the start of last season and is sure to go to post at a favourable weight. The JLT could be an option, but the Grand Annual trip will be much more to his liking and the eight-year-old could find himself on the podium if he puts in another solid Cheltenham performance.
17/3/2017 5:30pm Cheltenham selection – PAIROFBROWNEYES each-way (25/1 bet365)